The English coast has a massive variety of landscape, topology and usage. It is the custodian of centuries of history and home to a diverse flora and fauna. And, of course, it has always attracted walkers. Walking has now become easier with the creation of the England Coast Path, and a new guide from Cicerone – Great Walks on the England Coast Path – picks out some of the best sections.
What Is The England Coast Path?
At one time the idea of walking the whole coast of Britain would have been – if not quite a fantasy – at least a logistical nightmare, involving lengthy inland diversions. The possibility of a complete walk came one step closer with the opening of the Wales Coast Path in 2012, and work later began on joining up the English coast. This has been a major undertaking, liaising with landowners and industrial sites, and ensuring that natural areas are protected, but large sections of the route are now open.
When the path is complete (hopefully in 2023) its 4500 km will make it the longest walking trail in the world. Of course, England is not an island, and the route is punctuated by the borders with Wales and Scotland, so the path will not be continuous. However it would be possible to combine the route with the Wales Coast Path to make an unbroken trail between Whitehaven and Bamburgh.
Great Walks On The England Coast Path
Even when the path is complete, few people will have the time or the inclination to tackle it in its entirety. The Cicerone guide includes 30 walks, selected as an introduction to the many pleasures of the English coast. Covering between 9 and 45 km, they are a mixture of day and weekend hikes, and most (although not all) can be accessed via public transport.
These walks are a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Many keen hikers will already have tackled parts of the national trails – such as the South West Coast Path – that have been incorporated into the new route. However some areas, like Walney Island in Cumbria, may be lesser known.
The book is split into four sections, covering different parts of England. This means that, wherever you are, you will find a walk to follow. As the author says, “nowhere on the English mainland are you any more than 113km or 70 miles from the sea”.
Detailed Walking Instructions
Each walk includes information about length and difficulty, places to eat and drink, and driving or other transport options. There are photographs and maps and detailed walking instructions. Where appropriate, there are also warnings of things you need to be aware of – tide times, possible weather conditions, bird nesting seasons etc.
Some of the walks are circular; others are linear (with information about how to return to the start). Some join up with other trails, allowing you to extend your hike if desired. And there are suggestions for side trips and excursions.
The book ends with a list of useful websites, and some suggested further reading – first person accounts by those who have walked some or all of the route.
Smugglers, Shipwrecks And Shifting Sands
The walks have been chosen for their variety. You can discover geology, history and dramatic scenery, or you can just get away from it all. In some cases it is literally shifting sands, as the sea has reshaped the coastline over the centuries. There are nature walks, seaside promenades, and places brimming with history. We encounter smugglers and shipwrecks, coastal fortifications and “Britain’s only desert”. As well as the best place to buy kippers…
As with all Cicerone guides, there is lots of information about the places you encounter along the way. You’ll find quirks of history, snippets of myth and legend, nature notes and more. Each walk ends with an information box relating to an aspect of the route. One describes the Crosby beach sculpture by Antony Gormley; another has the intriguing header of “witches, whites and goats in the Valley of Rocks”.
Using The Cicerone Guide To Great Walks On The England Coast Path
Ultimately these walks are a celebration of England’s relationship with the sea and of its maritime heritage. “The coast is in our DNA”, the author tells us: we are a nation of sailors and fishermen and seaside holidaymakers. Use this book as an inspiration, enjoy the walks, and perhaps dream about planning a longer exploration of the English coastline.
Great Walks on the England Coast Path is available as a paperback or e-book. Once you have purchased the book you will be able to download the walks in GPX format to use with GPS enabled devices.
Great Walks on the England Coast Path: 30 Classic Walks on the Longest National Trail, by Andrew McCloy. Cicerone Press, 30 September 2022, 9781852849894